Building trust in government through data-driven decisions

By on 18/11/2021 | Updated on 02/02/2022
Data has played a part in heading off vaccine hesitancy by helping governments to understand and respond to people’s fears. Photo courtesy HM Treasury

Convincing at least 70% of the population to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has been one of the biggest challenges faced by the Belgian government in recent decades. To do so, there was a need to communicate effectively with citizens to allay their fears. By using data insights, the Belgian government and others have uncovered new ways to increase citizen trust

Most government institutions have the same three objectives: running effective public services, reducing costs by working efficiently, and earning and maintaining citizens’ trust. Without mutual trust it’s hard to function properly so, in order to avoid misperception and misinformation, good communication with citizens is essential.

Just as companies strive to provide a strong customer experience, so too do governments. And both are increasingly using data insights and digitalisation to optimise and personalise that customer experience.

For example, players in e-commerce proactively anticipate the needs of customers by using data insights to send them the right messages through the right channels. Similarly, governments can use data to understand citizens’ wants and needs and to communicate with them in a more personalised way.

Proactive investment in health

Throughout the pandemic, the healthcare sector has been under huge pressure – not just in treating COVID patients but in vaccinating populations against it. However, governments around the world needed to first head off vaccine hesitancy, and only by understanding people’s fears is it possible to allay them through effective communication. Data played a huge role in this. But even aside from COVID-19, health is a domain with huge potential for data analytics. Indeed, by working proactively, the aim is to invest in keeping people healthy rather than once they’ve become ill. Such prevention is a good thing for citizens, of course, and it can also significantly reduce health costs.

Suppose you notice someone is going to the dentist less often than the average person – you could encourage this citizen with a targeted campaign. Or if you notice that patients are going to the doctor more often with a particular problem, then you could work to raise awareness of the health issue so that it’s caught before it gets bad. Think, for example, of breast cancer campaigns designed to convince women to have their breasts screened early. Just as people received a reminder to get a second COVID vaccine, perhaps citizens could also receive a gentle reminder that their last dental visit was more than a year ago.

Recognising suicide warning signs

The Canadian health sector is a good example of a government institution that proactively invests in the health of the population. It uses open data from chat sessions and social media to better recognise suicide warning signs. Text analysis tools screen messages to determine certain feelings and emotions and, with the help of human oversight, people are then assigned a score which serves as an indicator as to whether or not action is needed. The personal data cannot be used but it is a useful tool for rolling out campaigns in regions or targeted at groups where the risk of suicide is highest, for example.

Australia has a similar project spearheaded by the Black Dog Institute. In the context of COVID-19, it uses a survey to gauge negative feelings such as anxiety or depression in order to support primary care staff. Participants receive a depression score based on the results, which allows for appropriate action to be taken. This can vary from offering informal advice to referring patients to a doctor or recommending emergency admission.

If data is used properly, you can make better decisions and also serve the population more efficiently. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for approving medications and medical devices. It has used data to find out which medical devices obese people talk about most, making it possible to prioritise certain devices in the approval process.

Not being afraid to fail

When it comes to health authorities’ and health insurance funds’ use of data, they often have access to the necessary information but it isn’t yet widely used or properly segmented. Information may be spread across several bodies. And then there are the ethical implications of the use of sensitive data. Citizens themselves are often reluctant to get personalised information about their health.

Companies have to overcome similar obstacles to better serve their customers. If you want to invest in customer experience, you first have to know who your customers are. The key is in experimenting. No-one knows in advance what customers or citizens want. Just like companies check whether something is added value for customers, government institutions can also verify whether citizens will benefit from a certain service. By not being afraid to fail, you can gain something from every experiment – either because it works, or because you have learned something that can help to improve your services.

Helping people get a new job quicker

Of course, it isn’t only citizens’ health that can benefit from the use of data. With the right insights, unemployment agencies can also better use their available funds. It is possible, for example, to classify jobseekers according to a number of profiles based on data analysis and provide them with adequate assistance throughout their journey from jobless to employed. Data might show you that a certain person is likely to find a job easily and that it would be a waste of resources therefore, to put a lot of effort into assisting them when others might need more support.

Some people might have no intention of finding a job; others might be looking for a job and have the right skills but find the application process difficult – migrants who don’t speak the language well enough, for example; and another group might need training.

Here, you can nudge people in the right direction by engaging candidates with an effective chain of communication. A similar project in Denmark has already produced promising results. The average duration of unemployment there has so far been reduced by ten days. This may not seem like a lot, but a quick calculation will tell you that a 10-day benefits payment saving adds up to a huge amount when it applies to hundreds of thousands people. That sum can be better invested in other projects that will, in turn, improve services for citizens.

The use of data in improving such services can boost citizens’ experience, in turn increasing their trust in government. And trust is essential in turbulent times. The past few months have prompted governments to progress digitally at unprecedented speed but there is still a long way to go before citizens and the services they access are truly and consistently supported by data.

It is worth noting here that sometimes, simply digitising certain administrative tasks can make a huge difference. But looking at the big picture, technology is going to be extremely important in order for us to be ready for the future. This pandemic won’t be the last major crisis we face. Therefore, it is imperative to have the data to make informed decisions and gain the trust of citizens.

About the authors

Steven Hofmans, Senior Business Solutions Manager and Customer Experience Advisor, SAS

As a Senior Business Solutions Manager at SAS Benelux, Steven Hofmans is on a mission to make every citizen a happy customer. No more spamming, impersonalised offers and frustrating customer dialogues. Today customer and citizen experience needs to be personalised, zero effort, frictionless, and proactive. 

Fabian Ducheyne, Account Executive, Public Sector, SAS

Fabian Ducheyne is Account Executive, Public Sector, for SAS Belgium & Luxembourg, helping the public sector in making more informed decisions with advanced analytics.

Fabian has a PhD in Physical Education and Movement Sciences.

Want to know more about how governments can integrate analytics and AI-driven decision making into existing business processes to reap the benefits of digital transformation? Download the e-book Transformational Decision? Intelligent Decisioning in Government. Through automated processes, deeper insights and the ability to act quickly, governments can innovate services, increase efficiency and help build a better future.

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